Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

PA Appeals Court Weighs Punishment For Students' Online Parodies

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the at-least-the-judges-aren't-ciavarella-or-conahan dept.

The Courts 319

crimeandpunishment writes "Is it a student's right to free speech or a school's right to discipline? A US Appeals Court in Pennsylvania heard arguments Thursday on a case that could have far-reaching implications. The issue involves the suspension of two students, from two different Pennsylvania school districts, for web postings they made on their home computers. The students posted parody profiles on MySpace that mocked their principals. The American Civil Liberties Union argued on behalf of the students."

cancel ×

319 comments

what about punishing Israel (-1, Offtopic)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456766)

for their crime against an american citizen shot 5 times in international waters?
keep it real, morons.

Simple solution (4, Funny)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456780)

The school district should just give these kids laptops with cameras that the school admin can activate anytime! Viola! Problem solved.

Re:Simple solution (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32456888)

Hey, I've got an off-topic post attached to the highest-up thread I could find. Cello! Problem solved.

Re:Simple solution (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456920)

Since the troll you replied to brought up Israel it's only fair to make a joke about the school shooting holes [haaretz.com] in said laptops ;)

Re:what about punishing Israel (-1, Flamebait)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457014)

Muslims and their supporters don't count as Americans due to their superstition being both the most toxic belief system in the history of mankind and the inherent commitment of all believers to impose Islamic systems whenever they are able to do so.

We are in a cultural war with Islam, so if anyone else is thoughtful enough to kill Muslims (bonus for other Muslims doing it, BTW they are in the lead so far) then bravo.

The convoys purpose was to break the blockade thus opening the door for arms and munition transport. They got what they asked for.

Re:what about punishing Israel (1, Offtopic)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457226)

Actually, the most important difference between Americans and radical Muslims is that only radicals have beliefs like this:

Muslims and their supporters don't count as Americans... if anyone else is thoughtful enough to kill Muslims...

The beliefs of most Americans are no less toxic, and have scarcely caused less harm in the time both have been around. The point of America is that you can be an American, no matter what your personal belief or superstition, and we don't tend to kill people merely for their beliefs. People like you are every bit as much a threat to the American ideal as the most hardcore Sharia supporter.

myspace? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32456792)

People still use myspace?

Re:myspace? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457360)

That's why it was obviously a parody.

Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (5, Insightful)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456820)

She used her principal's photograph and described him as a pedophile and mentioned a sex act. The girl later apologized, took down the page and was suspended for 10 days.

OK, it's one thing to parody, it's another to accuse someone of a crime that will ruin them for the rest of their life. I think those kids shouldn't be suspended for parodies but when they are using actual images and making false accusations along with them, that's another matter. That fake profile could have gotten that principle murdered. There are many vigilantes out there who would love to knock off a child molester. Then there's the whole social stigma and ruining his life.

Those kids went way too far - they went beyond parody.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (3, Insightful)

Midnight's Shadow (1517137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456896)

IANAL, but if I remember correctly intentionally misrepresenting someone as something that is patently false is libel or slander depending on how it is done. This is a criminal offense. The school should report it to the police, charges should be filed and life goes on. Unless the actions happened on school equipment or on school time, the school districts have no business getting involved. The kids did go too far but this isn't a school mater, it is a criminal one.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (0)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456924)

Except that posting these things about the principal is a direct attack on his authority as the principal. The kid that claimed hers was a pedophile should've been expelled, then been the subject of a police investigation into libel.

The courts have routinely held that it doesn't matter one bit where and how a student undermines the authority of teachers and principals, they can always be held to account for it.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457110)

First of all, assaulting the character of a government official is not an attack on the office or it's athority. There's a difference between respecting the office and respecting the person who happens to be occupying it at the time.

The principal should have dealt with the problem as a private citazin (ask the girl to stop, and if she doesn't press charges for libel). Using his athority as principal to discapline a student for something done outside the school is an abuse of his athority.

Actually, the ideal solution would have been for the principal to ask one of the English teachers to help the stsudent understand the line between libel and satire (ie use a characature of the person you want to ridicule not their actuall name/likeness). Then the principal gets the false accusations taken down, the student learn somnething, and everyone involved sees a principal who is adult enough to roll with the punches like any government official should.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (-1, Troll)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457216)

I am so torn over your post. On the one hand you make a compelling and insightful case for the way things should have been handled and yet your spelling is so atrocious I am forced to assume English is not your native language and you don't use a spell checker.

Oh, and I'm not sure the English teacher would be the correct person to explain the subtle differences of libel and satire. She might know how their definitions differ but a radio shock jock probably knows more about the practical applications.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457228)

The courts have routinely held that it doesn't matter one bit where and how a student undermines the authority of teachers and principals, they can always be held to account for it.

MMM I loves me that big gubbamint boot.

When did the principal get any authority for what goes on outside of the school? Oh wait, that was thanks to the nanny staters who cried about mommy and daddy not taking care of their kids then turning them over to be wards of the state 24x7.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457250)

If I was a student, I'd much rather be suspended than be prosecuted -- but I do agree that it's not really the job of the school to get involved.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (5, Informative)

Troy Roberts (4682) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457448)

Sorry, you are wrong. Libel and Slander are not criminal offenses. They are civil offenses and this gives the principle a cause of action. So, he can sue.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (5, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457520)

IANAL, but if I remember correctly intentionally misrepresenting someone as something that is patently false is libel or slander depending on how it is done. This is a criminal offense

No. Defamation, which slander are libel are forms of, is generally not a criminal offense in the United States; it's a tort. There is no criminal defamation at the federal level, although 17 states do have criminal defamation statutes, though they seem to be rarely enforced and are generally considered a misdemeanor.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457530)

BTW--Pennsylvania is not one of them.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (5, Insightful)

morari (1080535) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456904)

Maybe. But even then, the principal should have screamed "libel!" and let the police/courts handle that. Instead the student was suspended, despite nothing ever being done at the school itself. This is really just another case of school system trying to overstep their boundaries. It would happen every single day if people don't keep them in check.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (4, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456998)

Did they engage in defamation? Yes. Is defamation legitimate grounds for suspension? No. If the principal believes he is slandered, he can as a private individual sue the students for slandering (although in this context, a reasonable argument could be made that he's a public figure, which makes this much harder). What he can't do is take official action against the students.

For comparison's sake, let's say that a newspaper ran a front-page article (completely falsely) saying that a prominent politician's wife was a drunk and stating that the politician in question is bigoted against a minority group. While said politician could give a speech denouncing the paper, and could sue them for defamation, what he can't do is have the publisher of said paper arrested. (And for those old enough to remember the 1972 presidential campaign, you'll notice this isn't a hypothetical.)

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (4, Insightful)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457218)

Presented with the option of leaping to the courts and costing the family money to defend themselves and the option of having the kid stay home from school a couple days to learn their lesson on what's acceptable and what's not I'd say they made the right choice.

She's not just attacking the principal as a person, she's attacking him and his ability to do his job, and disrupting the ability of other kid's in that school to learn. Telling everyone a school is run by a pedophile has far reaching implications and is generally disruptive to the learning environment. Just like a kid cussing at a teacher during class, the school seems to me well within their rights to tell her to stay home for a couple days till she's ready to act responsibly. In fact, that seems like a much lighter sentence then the legal avenue.

"the right choice"? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457500)

Relying on internal discipline in lieu of referring violations of the law to the legal systems is not the right choice when http://www.now.org/nnt/fall-99/campus.html [now.org] colleges try to hand out internal discipline to rapists in lieu of turning them over to the cops.

Nor is it the right choice when police departments try to limit punishment for illegal beatings, shootings, etc to internal-only discipline measures instead of letting the guilty cops be taken into the court system.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (4, Insightful)

Lythrdskynrd (1823332) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457404)

Did they engage in defamation? Yes. Is defamation legitimate grounds for suspension? No.

That is untrue. It is absolutely grounds for suspension. I was a high school teacher for five years and dealing with discipline amongst the students is paramount. As a teacher you've got to stand in front of 30 (ish) teenagers and teach. Many of them don't want to be there, some of them have decided that they hate you personally over some personal slight from six months ago (ie: telling them they must complete their assignment rather than playing flash games, or it seems an issue with uniform as in the article). If one student sits back and tells you to go fuck yourself and is seen to suffers no consequence then that behavior spreads. Inside or outside of school is irrelevant (though is it the case that the speech that is accessible in school is speech in school?) How often do you read stories with headlines like "Student behavior out of control", "Teachers ineffective"... the fact is that there are good parents and bad parents. Leaving discipline choices up to the good parents is fine, leaving discipline choices up to bad parents is disaster. Better just to treat all students equally. One set of rules, consequences for actions. Let them adjust themselves to society and not the inverse. At the end of the day, the punishment of suspension is about teaching them right from wrong, and a page calling your teacher a pedophile is wrong.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (5, Insightful)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457552)

Inside or outside of school is irrelevant
Wrong. Your power as a teacher ends at the school, unless you want to be held liable for all the actions of the children you've ever taught?Because that sword cuts both ways.

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (5, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457692)

So are you saying that students have no free speech rights (when applied to teachers and principals, who are public officials) whatsoever?

It's not quite as clear-cut as you think, that's for sure. I'll put forward a few scenarios, tell me where the line is drawn:
  (a) Student goes up to Mr Smith in school and says "Go fuck yourself."
  (b) Student goes up to Mr Smith in school and says "You suck"
  (c) Student goes up to Mr Smith in school and says "You're incapable of doing your job."
  (d) Student raises his hand in class, is acknowledged, and explains to the class that Mr Smith just did some math on the blackboard that assumed that 2=1.
  (e) A student has just finished shoveling their family's driveway, and Mr Smith (who happens to live next door) blows snow onto the driveway. The student responds on the scene by saying "Screw you" to Mr Smith.
  (f) A student complains to his friends that Mr Smith is incompetent.
  (g) A student complains to his friends that Mr Smith blew snow into his driveway.
  (h) A student thinks Mr Smith has applied school rules improperly and arbitrarily, and writes an editorial in the school newspaper laying out his case.

I can think of a few more cases, but this seems like a good starting point. Where's the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech in your view?

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457456)

If the principal believes he is slandered, he can as a private individual sue the students for slandering ...

Technically, it's "libel" (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words).
"Slander" is spoken (for transitory statements).

Re:Accusations of pedophilia?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457674)

"Did they engage in defamation? Yes. Is defamation legitimate grounds for suspension? No. If the principal believes he is slandered, he can as a private individual sue the students for slandering (although in this context, a reasonable argument could be made that he's a public figure, which makes this much harder). What he can't do is take official action against the students."

Why not? I've read your post but I can't see the logic. You're right that students conducting defamation in their spare time (off school premises) is a civil matter that can be taken up in the courts, but why can't students be suspended from school too as a result of activities outside school hours if it impinges on the ability of the school to maintain discipline? The issue isn't only about the personal defamation, but the effect that such a serious accusation would have on the principal's ability to do their job in the school while an accusation like this is floating above their head. Do you really mean that they have no recourse until the civil matter winds its way through the courts (which could take ages)? Furthermore, if the civil matter were to be eventually successfully prosecuted, is that really in the best interests of the child that conducted the defamation? If other options aren't there, that's going to be the result.

If it were me in the principal's position, hell yeah I'd suspend the kid, or first at least say "You know the accusation is false. Withdraw the accusation, apologize on the web page in question, and you won't be suspended. Leave it up, and you will be suspended and I'll initiate a civil court action. This is a one-time offer in this room now. Your call."

A president can't simply order someone to be arrested. Unlike the situation you describe for the newspaper, it's not an abuse of power for principals to suspend students for reason of discipline in the school. It's their job. Where it stretches things is for activities outside the school, but it's a grey zone if those activities make it difficult or impossible for a principal or teacher to do their job in the school. That's the line the courts are trying to find. It depends on the substance of the mockery. Personally, were it an accusation of pedophilia, I'd consider that crossing the line.

I can think of worse. What if students had claimed a principal or teacher had raped them? For all you people saying this is a "free speech" issue, is that okay to do if off the school premises? No recourse for the principal but to go to the courts? Excuse me, but no. There are many types of "mocking" that I wouldn't consider justification for suspension, but students have to learn that there is a line they should not cross and that will have disciplinary and/or legal repercussions whether in the school or outside of it. Suspension gives the school system an option short of giving a student a legal record.

But the label was *obviously* wrong (2, Insightful)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457124)

The girl who called her principal a pedo was 14 years old. That puts her in high school.

A pedo principal will not seek employment at a high school. He'll go to an elementary school or younger.

Unless, of course, the girl doesn't understand (just like the mainstream media frequently misunderstands) the definition of the word "pedophile".

What we have here is a teachable moment. The kid deserves an "F" on this vocabulary test. Somebody make her write on the chalkboard 1000 times: "Dictionaries are good. Using words without understanding them is bad."

Re:But the label was *obviously* wrong (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457646)

A pedo principal will not seek employment at a high school. He'll go to an elementary school or younger.

In our society, someone who is sexually attracted to a girl one day from her eighteenth birthday is legally a pedophile, and if he acts on that attraction even with her full consent and is caught doing so he will be punished accordingly.

But did the school have a right to suspend them??? (5, Insightful)

Bourdain (683477) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457158)

Those kids went way too far - they went beyond parody.

I completely agree with that is clearly beyond parody, but the real question is "Can schools punish students for web posts?" not "Can people be punished for [inflammatory] libel?".

In a sense, these kids got off easy. They could have had real legal consequences as opposed to a school suspension.

Re:But did the school have a right to suspend them (1)

tiberus (258517) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457370)

For reasons beyond my ken, schools tend to deal with matters internally in lieu of using the courts where legal action could be taken. Granted the courts, IMHO tend to be much too lenient on youthful offenders. This is not parody, defamation of character, possibly criminally negligence, libel, etc. could all apply.

I don't believe the school has overstepped its bounds or authority by suspending the students, they could have been prosecuted. The school may have done them a favor.

The students don't need to 'just' be talked to about hurting someones feelings, they need to be punished, they need to learn to think before they act and that their actions have, sometimes severe, consequences.

The lesson for today (1)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456832)

"Teachers might say this is a teachable moment," McKee said.

And the lesson is hide and deny. Honestly, how long will it take kids to convert to anonymous attacks or posting under some other person's name?

Re:The lesson for today (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457114)

Not long at all, and I would say that these kids stand out for not being anonymous. When I was in high school, kids would routinely print their opinions on pieces of paper and tape the paper up on the school walls; this was just before the rise of MySpace. It was rare that anyone could figure out who was actually posting the papers, since everyone was smart enough to avoid teachers and security guards.

Re:The lesson for today (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457138)

Is that what we want to teach our kids? I'd rather teach them bravery and honesty than cowardice and deceit. But I guess in a society that woships money and values it above all else, maybe I should have taught my kids to be dishonest cowards like our so-called "leaders" (political, religious, and business) are.

Re:The lesson for today (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457178)

It is not cowardly to be anonymous, despite what /. might tell you.

There is a difference... (5, Insightful)

joel.neely (165789) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456834)

...between humor and malicious behavior. We don't excuse a schoolyard bully if he claims, "I was just having fun." Neither should we ignore malicious false statements merely because someone claims, "I was just doing a parody."

Accusations against teachers and principles of sexual misconduct against their students are typically taken very seriously (with good reason). So how is a student who makes such statements, apparently in retaliation for being disciplined at school, that different from a student who retaliates by pulling a fire alarm?

Re:There is a difference... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32456950)

...between humor and malicious behavior. We don't excuse a schoolyard bully if he claims, "I was just having fun." Neither should we ignore malicious false statements merely because someone claims, "I was just doing a parody."

Accusations against teachers and principles of sexual misconduct against their students are typically taken very seriously (with good reason). So how is a student who makes such statements, apparently in retaliation for being disciplined at school, that different from a student who retaliates by pulling a fire alarm?

One happened on school grounds.

Certainly, the school and/or principal should respond to these accusations by filing a libel suit. There is no need for a school to be granted censorship or broad disciplinary powers over its students in this case.

Re:There is a difference... (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457444)

I don't know, I've heard some really sick jokes that were incredibly funny. Not having seen the actual parody you really can't judge whether it was funny or not.

Simple (4, Insightful)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456844)

If something happens on school grounds or using school equipment, the school can discipline.

If something happens off school grounds and not using school equipment that is damaging or may be illegal, involve the criminal justice system or sue.

Why is this so hard?

side note: Homeschooling parents are looking pretty smart, aren't they?

Re:Simple (3, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456930)

side note: Homeschooling parents are looking pretty smart, aren't they?

A porn actress in a labcoat looks pretty smart too.

Re:Simple (2, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456974)

You don't have to tell me [listal.com] ;)

Re:Simple (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456940)

You're missing a critical point: other students at those schools may have (in fact almost certainly) viewed those "parodies". The result of which would be a lessening of respect for the teachers and principals involved, making it harder for them to apply any kind of discipline in school. So yes, the school district needs to discipline these kids, if only to remind the other kids that this behavior is not OK.

If you posted a "parody" like this of your boss, on your own time and using your own resources, you'd still be fired. And with cause. It's no different just because these kids are in school.

Re:Simple (2, Interesting)

moeinvt (851793) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457168)

"If you posted a "parody" like this of your boss, on your own time and using your own resources, you'd still be fired. And with cause. It's no different just because these kids are in school."

For a private school the employer/employee analogy works. It's completely different when the institution is a public school. AFAIK, students are required to attend school, and for most, government school is the only viable option. That doesn't grant the school blanket authority over the students' lives however. If the school district really needs to address something like this, I think a conversation with the student and parents should be step #1. If that fails, the school should pursue the case in civil, or possibly criminal court. Maybe they could hold a class or seminar teaching the kids about slander, libel, etc. with a few real world examples of the possible consequences? Public school officials should not be able to use their authority and arbitrary punishment to control the behavior of students outside the school.

Re:Simple (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457270)

How does it work for the private school situation? At work, you work for your boss and your boss pays you. At a private school, the teachers and administration work for the parents (by teaching the students) and the parents pay them.

Re:Simple (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457278)

That doesn't grant the school blanket authority over the students' lives however.

The Supreme Court disagrees with you. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457326)

Not the same thing at all. The case involved a school-sponsored event.

Re:Simple (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457716)

Be careful citing that case.
It ends up hinging on the student essentially promoting illegal drug use AND managing to be classified as if he were on school grounds due to it being a school event.

It could be used in a case like this but it is definitely not cut and dried.

Re:Simple (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457174)

The result of which would be a lessening of respect for the teachers and principals. . .

Are you suggesting that any respected authority should punish any deed that led to decrease in respect? If not, why for the case of teachers?

If you posted a "parody" like this of your boss, on your own time and using your own resources, you'd still be fired. And with cause. It's no different just because these kids are in school.

There is a significant difference between the school situation and the work situation. At work, you work for your boss. At school, the teachers and administration work for the students.

Re:Simple (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457256)

Are you suggesting that any respected authority should punish any deed that led to decrease in respect? If not, why for the case of teachers?

"Any" is a broad brush and a strawman. I'm choosing to ignore it.

There is a significant difference between the school situation and the work situation. At work, you work for your boss. At school, the teachers and administration work for the students.

Teachers need to be able to maintain order or else students can't learn. If the students have no respect for the teachers' authority, they can't maintain order. Therefore, anything a student does that causes other students to lose respect for their teachers must be punished. The alternative is to have a situation where classes are completely out of control and the students who want to learn, can't.

Re:Simple (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457252)

First of all schools aren't the student's employers (if you think they're comparable than you don't understand the concept of education, or posibly employment). Secondly schools are a government institution and therefore are held to higer standards regarding freedom of speech. And Finally, if you think this was a real threat to the athority of a school figure than you're clearly too old to remember what students think of their instructors.

Re:Simple (1)

malkavian (9512) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456982)

Because if you leap to the legal system, you miss out the essential middle ground.
Claiming that the principal was a paedophile was probably something you could send to court. However, the choice was made to be sane, tell the student off, and suspend them.

To teach, you need to maintain discipline. The ability to publish works in a public forum (yes, many searches may be able to see this profile, as will people in the school) deriding, and undermining the authority of the teachers is NOT conducive to being able to teach.
If you follow the 'free speech' mantra, students should be able to shout abuse at a teacher all lesson long, and deny anyone the ability to learn. There are many cases, some of which have been covered on Slashdot about internet bullying.
Ridiculing teachers on the 'net in plain view is nothing short of bullying; this is why society developed etiquette, so we could have this divergence of opinion on people, and still be able to function around them (i.e. you may hate someone, but you need to work with them. Thus you act neutrally around them, never give them a personal glimpse of the 'real you', and do the job at hand). Somehow, over the last couple of decades, etiquette seems to be completely ignored and the concept that you can always shout about something if you believe you're right (even if you're not, and your yelling does a lot of needless damage to people who also have the right not to be abused, which the shouter does, but doesn't care they're trampling someone else's rights).

By all means, ridicule in the class. Mobile phones, being private are also acceptable. Scrawling stuff on paper in the classrooms used to give you detentions and possibly suspensions if you were really malicious, so why should the 'net suddenly be fine to publish what you want on?
With freedom comes responsibility. People should be self policing. If they're not, then at some point someone WILL come along and restrict them, removing essential freedoms from all in the process.

Re:Simple (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457192)

If you follow the 'free speech' mantra, students should be able to shout abuse at a teacher all lesson long

I never mentioned free speech. I clearly stated that if it happens at school, the school should be able to discipline.

Re:Simple (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457306)

If you follow the 'free speech' mantra, students should be able to shout abuse at a teacher all lesson long, and deny anyone the ability to learn.

Nope, that's in school, where teachers have authority.

Ridiculing teachers on the 'net in plain view is nothing short of bullying; this is why society developed etiquette...

In school, that'd be legitimate grounds for whatever it is they wanted to do.

Outside school, in the real world, it may not even be illegal. And if it is, the principal could bring his own libel/slander suit and resolve it that way.

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457348)

You've missed the distictuion between: "the school has the athority to discaplin students who misbehave while at school" and "the school has the athority to discaplin students for anything they do".

The former is true, the later is not. The school does not have the athority to discapline students for something done outside school hours not on school property and not using school equipment.

Talking during class is not the same as talking at the local convinience store
writing notes during class is not the same as writing notes during church.
spray painting the school building is not the same as spray painting someone's house.

And finally, posting a defamatory web page at home, is not the same as posting a defamatory poster at the school.

If the pricipal had chosen to discuss the matter with the students and and explain what line they crossed with their "parory". As would persuing legal action against them for libel. What is not acceptable is abusing his position as school principal to discapline students for acts commited outside the school's athority.

Re:Simple (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457024)

Unfortunately, thanks to the Roberts Court [wikipedia.org] , that doctrine has now changed, and student speech off of school grounds can result in a suspension.

Re:Simple (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457052)

Suing would be more effective, and scare the shit out of the parents even if the lawsuit fails.

Re:Simple (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457072)

So my brother stands up in your classroom and hollers that you're a pedophile, and you can discipline him, but if I yell it in through the open window, you can't discipline me?

Well, I certainly admire your staunch defence of my rights there, Principle Gropesalot.

Re:Simple (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457232)

If you make that accusation, the principal can sue you for slander.

We are talking about constitutionally protected parody, not defamation.

Re:Simple (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457282)

We are talking about constitutionally protected parody, not defamation.

Except nothing that these kids were doing constitutes a form of constitutionally-protected parody. Maybe you should actually educate yourself on the case law in this field?

Re:Simple (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457600)

Fine. Then sue them for defamation. We have a legal system for that. Do not let the school administrators be judge and jury for something that happened outside of school.

Re:Simple (1)

lwriemen (763666) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457176)

> side note: Homeschooling parents are looking pretty smart, aren't they?

This statement is nonsense. Is the implication that this would be a lessor news event if the students were posting these things about their parent(s)? That the principal is actually a pedophile and zero home-school parents are? That zero home-schooled kids would do such a thing?

I would say that there is no certainty in any of these cases.

Re:Simple (2, Informative)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457286)

Homeschooling parents to not have to deal with an outside authority figure overstepping his bounds. The parents have a right to discipline their own children, regardless of the time and place of the transgression.

homeschooling (0, Troll)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457322)

creates children who are not very well socialized

it's also usually the realm of parents who want to indoctrinate their children into a fringe ideology. so you're creating these little brainwashed robots who, without any real peers, can't make up their own minds and put into the proper perspective the bullshit their parents are ramming down their throats

if your ideology is sound, you have no fear of your children comparing your beliefs with the beliefs of others. putting them in isolation to form their beliefs automatically betrays the fact that you fear exposure to other ideas. exposure to other ideas can only strengthen your own ideas. so sheltering your children, sheltering them from exposure to other ideas is a form of weakness, and automatically flags your ideas as suspect

Re:homeschooling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457644)

it's also usually the realm of parents who want to indoctrinate their children into a fringe ideology.

At least home schooled kids know the meaning of projection.

its not projection (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457712)

if you are getting a public education, you are, obviously, getting exposure to the dominant ideology

if by projection you mean that a public school education means you are indoctrinating your children into a fringe ideology, what is there to say about that?

you believe the dominant ideology is the fringe?

that says a lot

Re:homeschooling (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457666)

I plan on homeschooling my children. They will be socialized just fine. They have frequent interaction with other children and adults. There is a school next to my house, we take them to the playground and they play with other children. We have friends and they have friends. They meet people. They have peers. They are not isolated.

I do not have any fringe ideologies with which to indoctrinate them.

What makes you imagine that fringe ideology, brainwashing, and isolation are so tightly tied to homeschooling?

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32456864)

I'm glad that Taco never learned about my FakeBook page for him where I say he's fat and likes to poop a lot. He really could take me to the cleaners on that one.

Tinker (3, Informative)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456874)

The ACLU page gives more details about the cases including:

In one case, student Justin Layshock used his grandmother's computer to post a mock profile of his principal on MySpace, using the principal's name and picture to pretend it was the principal. The profile said things like the principal was "too drunk to remember" his birthday and has been drunk many times; was a "big steroid freak" and belonged to "Steroids International," in the past month smoked a "big blunt" (I'm guessing most of you don't need me to explain what blunt means in a footnote, like the court did!), and took "pills"; does not have a "big dick," is a "big fag" and is "transgender."

Justin's principal was displeased (go figure!) so he suspended him for 10 days, kicked him out of all interscholastic activities, removed him from AP classes and stuck him in a class with low-performing students. The ACLU sued and got Justin back into classes pretty quickly.

and:

In the other case, student J.S. used her parents' computer to post a mock profile of her principal on MySpace, not using his name but including his picture and suggesting he was a principal in Alabama. The profile said things like the principal was a "tight ass," "wonderful, hairy expressionless, sex addict, fagass put on this world with a small dick"; spent time with his child who "looks like a gorilla"; likes "fucking in [his] office" and "hitting on students and their parents"; and loves "sex of any kind," being a "dick head," and his "darling wife who looks like a man." J.S.'s principal wasn't pleased either, so he suspended J.S. for 10 days.

Oh, one more difference: the judges. Six different judges on the two cases. Justin won his case 3-0. J.S. lost her case 2-1. So four appeals court judges thought that the schools violated the students' rights. Two judges, one of whom was district court judge specially assigned to hear the case, thought otherwise.

It’s a tough one. The courts have found repeatedly that children don’t enjoy complete constitutional rights, especially within the context of schooling. However they do have some degree of first amendment right – as long as that doesn’t prove to be a disruption. The court is supposed to apply the Tinker Test (derived from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District which can be found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinker_v._Des_Moines_Independent_Community_School_District [wikipedia.org] ) – which comes down to an assessment of whether behaviour “"materially and substantially interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.” There are subsequent cases that further refined the Tinker standard, which can be read about at the wiki page, but they all repeated the general rule that students do not enjoy unabridged free speech.

So the question for us really is whether the creation of those fake profiles could be counted as disruptive to discipline in the operation of the school. There are, of course, compelling points on both sides. The question of defamation and the extreme damage accusations of paedophilia causes are also relevant.

Re:Tinker (1)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457068)

A little further research suggests that the comments could also run foul of the anti-obscenity rulings that have been made regarding student speech. At first look Bethel School District v. Fraser may apply.

It is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the states from insisting that certain modes of expression are inappropriate and subject to sanctions. The inculcation of these values is truly the work of the school, and the determination of what manner of speech is inappropriate properly rests with the school board. First Amendment jurisprudence recognizes an interest in protecting minors from exposure to vulgar and offensive spoken language,

I guess the important question is if the speech in it's original form could be construed as related to the school or the educational context. If it it then all the precident kicks in and the the students will likey lose. That being said, "public discourse" is rather vague - the case was specifically considering a speech given by a student to other students that were physically present. Does a myspace posting count as some kind of cyber-speech to an audiance of peers? Maybe it comes down to the expected and desired audiance? If the students created these sites so as to deliberatly reach out to their peers then is it all that different from standing up in an assembly and making the point there?

Re:Tinker (1)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457074)

Sorry...Bethel v. Fraser can be found at http://supreme.justia.com/us/478/675/ [justia.com] - hit submit a little too quickly.

Not the school's problem (3, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456892)

A 14-year-old Blue Mountain student who had been cited for a dress-code violation created a fake profile of a principal purportedly from Alabama. She used her principal's photograph and described him as a pedophile and mentioned a sex act. The girl later apologized, took down the page and was suspended for 10 days.

That is pretty disgusting for anyone to do to any other human being, especially to anyone that makes a living from working with kids - but I don't think the school should be doling out any punishment. This should be a matter purely for the courts.

Re:Not the school's problem (5, Insightful)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457148)

Ask yourself something - assuming the student is guilty of the act - what's better for the student and their family:

1. Being suspended for a few days and learning that actions have consequences.

2. Being taken to court, possibly having criminal charges pressed against you, bankrupting your family due to legal expenses and the judgement against you, and learning that actions have consequences.

Sounds like the school did what was best for the student, and is now being punished for it.

Re:Not the school's problem (1)

molog (110171) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457400)

Libel and slander are not criminal offenses. They are civil offenses. Your argument about what would be best for the family doesn't matter. The school should have no rights or authority over a student when not at school or a school event. This is a question of jurisdiction. I'm sure people would like to be tried for misdemeanor offenses by a US court when they do something stupid in Mexico, but it doesn't matter since they were not in the US and thus Mexico has jurisdiction. Here the act was committed off school grounds and not on school time. The school has no rights to enforce punishment.

Re:Not the school's problem (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457708)

Ask yourself something - assuming the student is guilty of the act - what's better for the student and their family:

Why don't we ask ourselves what's better for society? The courts are (ostensibly) beholden to the district, and the school administration is (again, ostensibly) beholden to the community. Is it best for society to run this girl and her parents through the court, or to make it clear that they could do so, and just scare her out of doing anything like that again, which is cheaper for everyone and creates good will rather than ill?

Sounds like the school did what was best for the student, and is now being punished for it.

Sounds to me like the school did what was best for everyone. You can't have students engaging in this kind of behavior, so to me there were basically three options. The actual outcome was one of them, lawsuit was another, and expulsion of the student is the third. Doing nothing is never an option; libel is fraud and should not be permitted to go unanswered except in cases where a response legitimizes a wingnut.

Re:Not the school's problem (2, Insightful)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457432)

Kids are kids. They will do stupid things; it's the nature of being a teenager. You push limits to see what they are.

OK, this kid did something stupid. Should the full force of the law be brought down on them? Heck no!

The kid took down the page, apologized, and it should end there. The kid learned something. Life goes on.

The school has no right to reach out and punish a kid for doing something on their own time. They can refer it to the cops, or they could actually use this to teach acceptable limits to behavior.

Instead, they used it to teach the kid how to play smackdown when you have power and they don't.

That's a lesson that the kid will remember for a long time. And when that kid is a wage earner, and the principal wants an increase to his social security check and better medicare, don't you think this kid will remember how it feels to have power over someone else and how to smack them down?

Re:Not the school's problem (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457684)

There's "pushing the limits" and there's being a complete asshole. By 14 you're pretty well aware of right and wrong - implying that a teacher is a paedophile without cause is very, very wrong.

People have ended up having their lives ruined because of this kind of accusation. I didn't see the profile myself, and it was probably obvious in this case that it was just a joke, but I don't know.

I seriously doubt the apology was heartfelt, but it's good that she took the site down and yes the school definitely shouldn't have been doling out punishment for this.

Freakin' seriously? (0)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456952)

If we can make fun of the POTUS, we can make fun of a principal.

Seriously. You're in charge of a bunch of angsty teenagers. You aren't nearly as badass as you think you are. People talk smack...get over it.

Re:Freakin' seriously? (2, Insightful)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456972)

Hit that submit button too quick.

I don't agree with making the guy look like a pedo, that's going too far...but that is a libel case, not an instance where disciplinary action should have been taken by the school. Leave it to the cops.

Re:Freakin' seriously? (0)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32456984)

If we can make fun of the POTUS

What are you, some sort of racist or something?

Re:Freakin' seriously? (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457038)

Note that I didn't say which President.

Re:Freakin' seriously? (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457222)

Claiming that the principal is a pedophile and had sex with a student isn't "making fun" by any stretch of the imagination. That is a potentially career-ending accusation for the person.

Rights with Responsibility (2, Insightful)

trinaryai (949870) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457040)

There is a general rule of law in the United States based on the concept of a "reasonable adult". Each of the first ten amendments of the American Constitution (and their analogues elsewhere) comes with the unwritten assumption that a reasonable adult will use these freedoms for the betterment of the community. The right to bear arms does not grant me the right to murder my neighbor because I don't like the car he drives. The right to peacefully assemble and protest the actions of government does not grant me the right to riot and destroy the property of others. In this case, the right to free speech does not grant the right to make false accusations. Despite a more liberal interpretation of law in recent years, slander and libel are still criminal acts, not protected by the first amendment. Would a reasonable adult consider J.L.'s parody to hold any truth? Probably not. Would a reasonable adult consider J.S.'s fake profile to hold any truth? Considering the forum on which it was placed, I would have to say yes, as there have been numerous instances of principals and teachers creating just such a profile. Therefore, the issue isn't whether schools have a right to police students' activities outside of school; but rather if actions taken in the world of cyberspace can or should be held to the same standards as those taken in print or public discourse.

Let's boil it down the the essentials. (5, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457044)

The clear intent of both students was to harass the teachers and cause disruption by undermining their authority. The publication was targeted at an audience (their peers), and the effect was felt inside the school.

At this point, I could be describing: posting on the intartubes; putting up posters near the school with the same content; waving a placard outside the school gates; standing outside the window and yelling.

In each case, the action was done outside the school, but the effects were felt inside it, and that is the salient point.

Schools must be able to respond to actions that effect them by disciplining or excluding the student. That's independent of any civil or criminal actions brought against the students by the libelled individuals, and the police and prosecution services.

Can we seriously countenance that a school can discipline or exclude a student for standing up in a classroom and yelling that Principal Peterson is a kiddie fiddler, but that it can't take action if the student moves three feet and yells the accusation in through the open window?

If so, then schools might as well hand out copies of Lord of the Flies as their conduct rules.

it's called "jurisdiction" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457224)

Can we seriously countenance that a school can discipline or exclude a student for standing up in a classroom and yelling that Principal Peterson is a kiddie fiddler, but that it can't take action if the student moves three feet and yells the accusation in through the open window?

Can we seriously countenance that Pennsylvania can execute a man for murdering someone inside Pennsylvania, but that Pennsylvania can't take action if the man moves three feet over to commit the murder inside New York instead (that same 3 foot move also takes execution out of the set of potential punishments)? YES.

If so, then schools might as well hand out copies of Lord of the Flies as their conduct rules.

The geographically-limited ability of States and Municipalities to enforce the rules each sets hasn't had that effect yet.

What the ****? (1)

Rallias Ubernerd (1760460) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457058)

A person has every right to the freedom of speach. Damn it. The right to dicipline never made it to the constitution. The constitution is the highest law of all in their jurisdiction, and mine too. So they have the right to freedom of speach. Just like Robin of Locksley was told, "Kings will rise again until sheep become lions". Is there not a modern day society that reconizes this fact? Eventually, someone will get pissed off enough to start a revolution. I will not be afraid to be that person.

Re:What the ****? (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457230)

You don't have the right to maliciously defame a person which is what these kids were doing.

emancipation (1)

e3m4n (947977) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457062)

I agree that there is a line between libel/slander and using free speech to mock someone. I also would like to know exactly what constitutional rights children do and do not have. Everyone loves to rush to first amendment, yet every state (understandably) has a minimum age to own a rifle (2nd amendment) which no one rushes to overturn. There's also an ambiguous term called emancipation. This term is often used in conjunction with the 'age of majority' which removes parental control. It is my understanding that before this age, one is still a minor and therefore not entitled to the same protections under the constitution as someone who is. Example: a minors parents could have their child committed against their will in a mental health facility without court order. This action, to an adult, would constitute imprisonment without due process.

my question is this... Do they really have rights under the constitution and if so which rights do they have and which ones do they not have? Without rights the whole concept of standing comes in play here.

Let's stop mixing terms (2, Informative)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457064)

Calling someone a criminal (pedophile who actively preys on children in this case) without any proof and with what appears to be great malice of forethought is not a parody. None of the definitions of parody [reference.com] fit the bill for what she did. It is libel. Pure, unadulterated, libel. The girl and her family should have been sued into the ground by the principle instead of her getting suspended.

Re:Let's stop mixing terms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457132)

No, the girl and her family should not have been sued into the ground. How many fourteen-year-olds know libel laws and understand them? I know ignorance of the law is not an excuse, but give me a break.

Re:Let's stop mixing terms (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457362)

with what appears to be great malice of forethought

To all intensive porpoises, I agree.

undo (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32457086)

undo

Exercise Analysis (1)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457096)

Is it a student's right to free speech or a school's right to discipline?

Well, first lets break it into two continuums*. The Students right to free speech and the Schools right to discipline. On the Students their main focus is to learn. On the School their main focus is to teach. Branching between these two continuui is a complex network of social interaction and possible ways the structure of transferring knowledge from one party to the other could proceed. Precedence is on success so it is favored that the Student will learn. Schools seek the most efficient method to process large numbers of Students successfully. Meeting these criteria in a mutual way requires allowances for each others constraints. Students should take shit and Schools shouldn't give it. Disproof? ;) :) :D

* With this definition: Continuum. Complete set of all information. The totality of a symbol. Totality means everything that was, is, and will be. To sum up a continuum, logically organize top-down into pieces. Discard all variation or take the set. Sets contain no duplicates. Interrelate unique pieces into theories. Train theories in your mind using mnemonics. Map sequences of action or consequences through the network of relationships between theories. Result quality matches theory quality.

I gotta say... (1)

Nabeel_co (1045054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457128)

IMHO:
Ok, the first one that the girl did about the Principal being a pedophile is just mean spirited and cruel.
The second one the guy did about the Principal being a drunk and a pot head kinda paints a funny picture...

Sure, let them do it (1)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457202)

But also let those who are parodied beat the crap out of them, if they can. There was a time where people learned restraint out of fear getting into a fight. Since we've taken that away people have lost any form of restraint, hiding behind their computer. Allowing a little bit of fisticuffs would go a long way in adding responsibility for ones actions.

But (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457220)

Outlawing mockery makes a mockery of the law...

The courts should be no place for rude people to be educated, or for those who hold grudges to get satisfaction.

The "right" to discipline? (1)

Scutter (18425) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457272)

What is the "right" to discipline? We give schools the PRIVILEGE to discipline. That PRIVILEGE does not outweigh a person's RIGHT to free speech. How about the Right to due process? Seems the schools have no problem violating that, either.

If the individual members of the school board had a problem with something a student did outside of the school's jurisdiction (whether this particular case or any other you care to name), they should have handled it through the police or the courts just like any other private citizen. Otherwise, they can STFU and DIAF.

Bullshit (1)

cffrost (885375) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457334)

Satire/parodies are protected speech. Weigh punishment for administrators violating these peoples' rights to public education and free expression.

Outside of school, the law rules. (1)

tarlss (627609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457510)

The principle has no power outside of school. If say, his ex-wife made such a post, there would be little he could do about it other than sue.

If say, some anonymous trolls on 4chan made such a post, they would probably get off scot-free.

The principle is obviously abusing his power, by using it to punish for acts outside of his jurisdiction. That would be like punishing children in order to coerce their parents into doing something.

What this really boils down to is (1)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457680)

The students need to learn how to do this stuff in a way they can not get caught!

Use anonymous e-mail address to register the account, walk down the street with a laptop and find an open wifi router to use so that it can not be traced back to your house, send anonymous e-mails and texts to let everyone know it is there.

If you do it right the school can not trace it back to a given student. As my kids ;)

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...